This past Sunday, it was reported in the New York Times Style section that we are An Anxious Nation.* We sure are: caught between sound bites on Twitter, Facebook, and whatever other input mechanism we happen to be attached to…reading and looking at everything and nothing.
I find it interesting that we are not doing more to organize ourselves and assuage our collective anxiety. The interventions of listening to the comedians , screaming on Facebook and Twitter, and letting off a few F…bombs with each new update from POTUS, are not going to make a change that matters.
After all, the purpose of anxiety is to pose us for action, not for us to sit in a soup of cortisol and adrenaline waiting for the next piece of information to pump more cortisol and adrenaline into an overloaded system.**
So, why don’t we get off our cell phones and actually do something? Why indeed? Ironically, a few months ago, I was discussing the concept of the zeitgest with my husband and I decided we needed to visit the definition. It is easily explained by Merriam Webster: the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.
I became curious and typed in this question: What is the zeitgest of the 21st century? I read the answer that popped up on Philosophy News: Misanthropy: We view ourselves as incapable of overcoming challenges. I thought, of course this is the zeitgest of our times: how many times have I brought up something in conversation only to hear, “well there is nothing you can do about it (or, said it myself).”
I took a look at the Philosophy News *** site recently and realized that the quote above was linked to a book review in 2015. Here are two quotes:
Matthias Heitmann takes on the zeitgeist in his new book Zeitgeisterjagd…Heitmann does not see the political zeitgeist in terms of a struggle between left and right. Party politics are meaningless in a world that rejects change and makes the state the auditor of human agency. For Heitmann, the zeitgeist is a consensus, a worldview that rejects freedom in favour of security – with deleterious effects.
In Zeitgeisterjagd, Heitmann invites the reader to take risks, if not in deed, at least in thought. He asks us to see today’s worldview not as a logical consequence of the horrors of twentieth-century history, but as the collective mind of our times. And, as such, Heitmann argues that we can change our collective mind, if we put our minds to it.
I guess if JFK were here, he might say, “Ask not what you can tweet about today, but rather what you can do.”
Tonight, in ITHACA, NY, there is a meeting re: the expansion of Cargill’s salt mine under Cayuga Lake, an expansion planned without an Environmental Impact Statement. This is a meeting in which a group of concerned citizens, CLEAN, is organizing to educate the public. This is action that can lead to change.
After the information is presented, those of us who attend, can then take steps to impact a situation, seemingly out of our control, which could have a detrimental impact on our community and environment .
This is an excellent post by Holly Munn…in life, as in communications, goal setting is critical! Without goals, in my opinion, no matter how small, it is hard to see where we are going and why we are spending our time on things.
A lack of goals reminds me of turning on Facebook and slipping from one story or link to another only to come back, out of the sticky web, an hour later to ask myself, now where am I? what did I want to accomplish today?
To access Holly’s post, click below. It is titled: Tactics are sexty, goals are critical.
I am always struck by the power of an image…it needs little explanation. On my blog, I align one image with each post. Due to time constraints, some images are more relevant than others.
In Communications, we want people to do something or think something. What a task? So many pre-existing filters exist and it is hard to get through them. Images can sometimes strike our audience in ways that verbiage can not. The popularity of Instagram is a testimony to this opinion.
The image in this post could be interpreted a number of ways: the question is: who is muted in our society? This is an instance where the Semiotic theory in Communications is useful.
The Semiotics definition from the Oxford English Dictionary states:
“The science of communication studied through the interpretation of signs and symbols as they operate in various fields, esp. language (see semioticn.for parallel form). Cf. semiologyn.“
The above is not an icononic symbol, but rather it signifies that a large entity, perhaps alien, as alien as outerspace or as one human paradigm to another, is forcing, through their power, another entity, to stay quiet.This…despite that entities willfulness.
These are some recent headlines on the web that make the sketch a good metaphor for its the use of power over rather than power with :
New York Times: Threats and Vandalism Leave American Jews on Edge in Trump Era
By ALAN BLINDER, SERGE F. KOVALESKI and ADAM GOLDMAN
In each case, the report indicates a threat. One group trying to assert power over another. The responses of the less powerful are not documented in the headlines, but while they may not currently be muted, it is obvious to this news observer that we are heading in a direction of silencing them.
The last time I saw Uncle Abe was in 1992. He always came a weekend or two before Christmas when my friend’s family celebrated the Christian and Jewish holidays. Each year they invited me down for a cocktail, a meal, desert, and/or a visit.
I loved Uncle Abe for all the New York City adventures he brought with him. He was tall, really tall, with a salty colored beard and big head of black hair. He graced the entrance with his long black coat with its red-plaid flannel interior fraying at the edges. Abe carried one suitcase…off white from all the grime it had picked up in the city.
My friend and her family worried about Uncle Abe-he never gave them his address and their minds set Uncle Abe in New York’s bowery, huddled with homeless bums. Yet, Uncle Abe was well nourished, he survived somehow with a gregarious laugh that filled the room and echoed off the walls.
Uncle Abe and the rest of the family took people in…you were visiting, heck you were one of the family. As I got ready to leave that day, Uncle Abe sauntered over to his suitcase. He unsnapped it and the lid sprang open and hit the couch.
“I have a feeling we won’t be seeing you again,” he said “and I want to give you something.”
He bent his torso over his suitcase and pulled out a pack of writing cards wrapped in cellophane. They were all drawings like the one below, where the perspective changes depending on what you focus your eyeballs on…an old woman with a huge nose or a smartly dressed woman ready for an evening out (in 1915, the year this was drawn).
Years later, I was talking to my friend and I asked how Uncle Abe was doing. “He died,” said my friend. He left behind so many antiques and collectibles, we hired an auction house to get rid of it all.”
Poor Uncle Abe was not poor at all: a large man with a large heart and a lesson in communication.
It really does depend how we look at things and reality can shift in a blink of an eye. What we see with certainty may morph into something completely opposite given a change in perspective.
I realize that is a long title but it sums up what I saw yesterday. At the end of a long, hot week and a long hot month where the random fluctuations in my little universe have challenged me to rise up and cope, I was dismayed at the following scene.
Enroute to the pharmacy after my husband’s second arm casting of the week, we sat on the exit ramp. In front of us I read the bumper sticker, “Let Go and Let God.” I think ” what exactly does it mean for people?” For me, it means that God will intervene so I don’t have to do anything. For that reason, I don’t particularly like this bumper sticker.
One thing I believe, if God is listening, he sure as hell, does not mean for me to abdicate my throne for hers. Rather, I think, he wants me to get in there and do my part for the universe, as best I can. Yep, go ahead and forgive those mud slingers, Ann Coutler included. But don’t wait for him to save me from her.
So back to this little scene on the ramp where I’m hot and bothered and at the end of my patience rope. As I read the bumper sticker, I saw before me the driver open the car window, smash his soda can and drop it to the ground. I started yelling at him, so tired, I didn’t want to beep, just yell out my window. By the time my finger engaged the controller, the traffic was moving.
This man/woman drove off leaving the rest of us with his/her mess. I imagine three scenarios for this piece of trash discarded into our universe:
a. the can will be driven over, smushed probably, and it may affect someone’s tires.
b. a cautious driver may dodge it careening off to the right and into the guardrail.
c.the can will be picked up by the air or a person or a sweep of heavy rain and it will end up in recycling or the lake.
So, this is the bumper sticker I think God and I could agree on:
God Protect Me From Your Followers.
The followers who think that you created this beautiful planet and all of us for our own purposes, that we are not here to hold sacred each human, each piece of land, each day because somehow with your magical intervention, you are going to take care of it and make it all better, no matter what crap we put into the universe.
As a companion to my post on bullying, I dug through my archives to find this piece on branding that I wrote several years ago.
I have taught, and worked, individually with over 2000 people, children and adults. I have witnessed the same patterns over and over in human behavior. I am not a scholar of behavior, but I have found one pattern disturbing. People get branded by the society around them and then behave to fulfill the expectation. The society starts with childhood family and moves on through peoples’ lives.
When people are stuck and I have posed options to them, the responses have stunned me…their roots in voices miles, decades away. I wrote this for the artist in the engineer and the engineer in the artist; the leader in the the group of followers and the follower in the leader; and of course, the hero in the scapegoat. Circa 2011
Imagine you are walking down the streets of New York City and you have not been branded yet. There is no story tagged to you, like a piece of tobacco rolled up in thin white paper without a name, you no longer have a label or a story. Gone is your award for class clown, bully, or friend, along with your tag lines: the family hero, writer, artist, black sheep, and on and on.
You, like the pieces of tobacco rolled in thin white paper have no brand. You are free to create your own brand. You can shake off what defined you and write your own story. Like the Virginia Slim, you can ‘go a long way baby.’ The projections of you can be wiped out like your fb account. This is what happened when I rebranded my dog Mu.
Mu was our first puppy. I fell in love with her from the beginning; failing to tell my husband she was not a pure bred until we were half way home. Five months into our relationship, things went bad. Mu grew powerful and started yanking at my shirt sleeve at the end of our walk. The louder I yelled, the more she tugged.
We went for walks or rather she did, with me almost achieving lift off as she dragged me down the path. What to do with this mutt, we should have bought a pure bred?
I told so many stories about my bad, bad dog, that people who knew me then, often ask now, “what ever happened with your crazy dog?”
Then one day, I picked Mu up from an overnight at the vet. I could hardly believe my eyes; there she stood, straight and still with the vet. I asked how she behaved: “Great, she is a sweetheart.”
On my way home I realized Mu was not crazy after all. I needed owner training. With the help of a kind friend, Cathy, I took control of the leash.
I then changed the story. Mu truly was a sweet dog and I started telling people that. In a few short conversations, my little Mu, became branded as the best little boxer this side of the Atlantic.
Now, back in New York City, as you walk through those streets smelling the car fumes and seeing the lights of possibility, you can take that energy and mold yourself into the creature you want to be ~ the one that lives on your own terms and sits like The Thinker, real or metaphorical, its own divine creation, living just once in a burst of beautiful light.
Like Don Draper of my once favorite show Mad Men, you can write your soul, for better or for worse. And as Don did, and I did for Mu you can take a story that condemns you, rewrite it, start spreading it, and change it.
Yesterday, it arrived, a picture of me with very short hair. My friend
is cleaning out her Mom’s house and she sent it to me, this picture. I remember that bike, a source of much joy as I roamed where ever I wanted, and the jeans….I”ll never fit into those puppies again. And of course, I remember that awful haircut. Ugh…I look like a boy.
Sunday, I went to a sermon by a historian on feminism. I couldn’t help thinking with the arrival of both of these items into my universe, that for for me, ironically, feminism symbolically boiled down to my hair.
Feminism is defined online by Merriam Webster as the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities. The sermon discussed the the myths of Feminism. Feminists as angry, bra burning, and a group exclusive to women. I do not fit into that mythology. But I do believe we women should have the right to grow our hair out.
I grew up in an Italian family with some old world constructs about the role of women. At about thirty, I decided I was not going to stay in that role and as a symbol of it, grew my hair out.
For years I had wanted to grow my hair out, but as soon as it looked like it might actually reach below my chin, I’d go to the hair dresser, ask for a trim, and she would say after 8 years of knowing me, “You’ll never grow your hair out.” I was trapped in a story about my hair, that began when I was nine.
It went like this, my hair was shoulder length one day. I loved it. I told my Aunt, my second mother, how one day, I would work in an office and have shoulder-length hair, “ok,” she said. And I practiced for my fourth grade picture where my hair is shoulder length. And then, one day, something happened. It was the early 70s and I think pixies were in style.
My mother took me to our hairdresser for a hair cut. I went to the chair, and the beautician asked my Mother, “how do you want this cut?”
“Short,” she said. “He (meaning my father) wants it all off.”
In my early thirties, somewhere between the hair dresser’s comment and my self-reflection, I made the click between my behavior and the words I heard as an over-pleasing young child. I grew my hair out 25 years ago, for the most part, it has remained, long or longish. Betraying a construct isn’t easy, but in the end, loyalty to something that binds your hair, or your soul, isn’t balanced. So, I guess, I became a feminist.
I recently asked my husband, as I’m aging now, when he thought I should get my hair cut real short again so I don’t look witchy? “when your 90” he said. He knows the story, of course, and he too, is a feminist.
I worked once, over 30 years ago, with a tragic character. Her name, fictionalized, was Sephina. I thought of her whenI watched Charley based on Flowers for Algernon. A story about bullies ~ adult bullying exists and Sephina was my first introduction to this behavior.
Sephina was the daughter of first-generation Italians raised in an Italian working-class community during the 1930s. She was odd and she was justifiably paranoid. Her behavior did not fit the norm; she talked to herself, in between answering phones. She was the receptionist at an office where I held a temporary job, and the butt of humor for the adults behind the glass door that separated the reception area from the offices.
It seemed Sephina’s fear that people were talking about her increased with their talking about her and that is where, as I recall, her paranoia became evident. As she sat down at her station, her eyes would become big and bigger with each person that grazed past her desk. Individuals spoke a casual, “Hello,” then turned to one another and giggled as they opened the glass door and went to their cubicles and desks. Many times I heard small groups whisper to each other, “Oh, there is Sephina, talking to herself, she is so crazy.”
My Aunt, the daughter of Italian immigrants herself, knew Sephina and told me that her husband was a brute. He controlled her every waking moment, rarely let her out of his sight, and demanded much in the way of household chores. I imagined how after being outwardly shunned all day, never invited to Chicken and Biscuit lunches, and climbing into her husband’s car, Sephina went home to more abuse and labor: fixing dinner, cleaning, and making her husband’s lunch for the next day, all the while hearing: “You f____ c ___!”
Sephina dressed in tailored skirts, matching sweaters, and carried a plaid handbag. I watched her leave the office one day, head bowed, staring at the ground as she opened her husband’s car door and slid into the passenger side. He looked like one of those guys in life who never smiled, harsh, grumpy.
One day my Aunt invited Sephina over to her house because we both wanted to see how she made homemade noodles. She taught us step-by-step this arduous process, which I have never done again. She and my Aunt talked about the old days, the kindness of people back then, and some of their mutual acquaintances. Sephina acted perfectly fine and made delicious homemade pasta.
Then she went back to work the next day and to the role she was cast in by that small little world she had grown to inhabit. The role, which her husband solidified (as my aunt told me) when she was told repeatedly, “you are no good.” It is natural to assume the part and become the victim of the role cast in: the unsuspecting person believes it and acts on it. I learned Sephina was not crazy; she was encased in a socially cemented part that her husband and co-workers reinforced.
It is our social nature to want to belong. Groupthink is when individuals follow the thinking of the group even when it causes cognitive dissonance. People with power get away with bullying, not because they are right, but because the individuals around them who comprise the immediate group, do not have the courage to question the behavior of someone in authority. Things will change, when individuals within groups stop supporting the erroneous myths and behaviors of those around them. Children will learn from that example as they replicate the behavior of their adult caretakers.
I never saw Sephina again but in my mind, she still sits alone, isolated from the group behind the glass door. A person with more courage than most.